As technology advances and research studies are carried out, science is telling us what we should take in to stay healthy and what we should avoid to remain that way. While it can feel frustrating that what you thought was good for you one day may be labeled as “bad” the next, it is crucial to learn about the substances around you and avoid what can impact your health negatively. This is especially important if you are pregnant or trying to conceive, because there are toxins that (naturally or artificially) find their way into our food, drinks and cosmetics and may cause health concerns for you and your developing baby. Just about everyone is familiar with the basics, proven by science and approved by your grandmother: don’t smoke or do drugs, eat your vegetables, avoid too much sugar or alcohol and get exercise regularly. Technology and times have changed, and we are exposed to more chemicals now than our great-grandparents could have ever fathomed. Our food is packaged, preserved and handled differently. Our bodies are exposed to numerous chemicals through the use of cosmetic products, detergents, pesticides and can even be found in the packages or containers that hold our food and drinks. Many new products that come out on the market are used without a thought initially; we can sometimes have a false sense of security that the item is safe because it made it to the store shelf. However, it can take months or years for diseases to develop from product use, and more intense research must be carried out to prove that the item is not suitable for the public and eventually removed from the market if it is unsafe-which can be a lengthy process. In this article, we’ve listed three substances that science is proving should be avoided (or at least limited) to help preserve your (and your baby’s) health during your childbearing years and beyond.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a chemical used to manufacture plastics such as bottles, beverage containers (cups, baby bottles), plastic dinnerware, toys and in the protective linings of food cans, to name a few. While BPA has been in use for about 40 years, new research is raising concerns about the potential effects of BPA on the brain, behavior and prostate gland in fetuses, infants and young children (HHS.gov). The article “Impact of Early-Life Bisphenol A- Exposure on Behavior and Executive Function in Children” from the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, found that fetal exposure to BPA was suspected to have caused behavioral issues in the baby girls studied by the time they were three years old. According to a statement on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website: “It is clear that the government and scientists and doctors need more research to better understand the potential human health effects of exposure to BPA, especially when it comes to the impact of BPA exposure on young children.” While it is still being aggressively researched, some studies have even suggested a link between BPA exposure, cancer and impaired immune function. While the scientists are studying, it is always best to play it safe and steer clear of BPA as much as possible. Water is essential for existence and is like liquid gold for the body, just limit how much you drink from a plastic bottle. Utilize a faucet filter and reusable aluminum water container instead of bottled water. Don’t use scratched hard plastic dinnerware or cups, as the scratches weaken the surface and allow more BPA into your food and beverages. Be careful with plastics and temperature: don’t use plastic to hold hot food or liquids since this can increase the amount of BPA released into your food/drink and avoid using plastic in the microwave. When able, always choose glass or ceramic over plastic containers and try to limit the amount of pre-packaged and canned foods that you buy.
Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant loved by many. Found in coffee, chocolate, tea, medications, herbal products and soft drinks, caffeine can help us start our day with a jolt. While adults can effectively process caffeine, caffeine does cross the placenta and may have a negative impact on a developing fetus. In adults, caffeine can increase blood pressure and heart rate, and also tends to increase urination which can lead to dehydration. According to the American Pregnancy Association, even a small amount of caffeine can cause changes in a fetuses sleep pattern or normal movement pattern in the later stages of pregnancy. Some studies have even shown a link between high levels of caffeine consumption and delayed conception. In 2008, two studies on the effects of caffeine related to miscarriage showed considerably different outcomes. One study released by the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, found that women who consume 200 mg or more of caffeine daily are two times more likely to have a miscarriage than those who do not indulge in any caffeine. Another study released by Epidemiology showed no increased miscarriage risk in women who drank a minimal amount of coffee daily.
Due to conflicting conclusions from numerous studies, the March of Dimes states that until the results of more consistent studies are available, pregnant women should limit caffeine intake to less than 200 mg per day (about one cup of coffee). If giving up your morning coffee sounds less than appealing, try to limit caffeine by balancing how you take it in. If you are weak for chocolate, have a half-caf coffee in the morning (half caffeinated-half decaf) so that you have a little wiggle room should you need a chocolate fix. Energy drinks, migraine medications, herbal products or appetite suppressants containing caffeine should be strictly off-limits while you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.
Acne medications have come a long way in helping acne sufferers keep skin flare-ups at bay. While you’re pregnant or trying to conceive, your skin may break out due to hormonal changes, which can be completely normal. Before using oral or topical medications, it is imperative you ensure the medications you use for clear skin are safe during pregnancy and conception. Accutane (isotretinoin) is a popular prescription oral medication that is used for severe acne, and is strictly off-limits during pregnancy or pre-conception. Considered a category X drug, as explained by the FDA means “Studies in animals or humans have demonstrated fetal abnormalities and there is positive evidence of human fetal risk based on adverse reaction data from investigational experience, and the risks involved in the use of the drug in pregnant women clearly outweigh potential benefits”.
Reports in medical literature suggest that about 25 to 35 percent of babies exposed to this drug will suffer a birth defect; there is also an increased risk of miscarriage and infant death associated with use of Accutane during pregnancy. Retin-A (tretinoin) is a prescription cream that is applied to the skin to treat acne, and is not recommended for use while trying to conceive or when pregnant. Even though applied to the skin, the medication is absorbed into the bloodstream and can reach the fetus. The FDA has labeled Retin-A a category C drug, which means that animal reproduction studies have shown an adverse effect on the fetus but there are no adequate and well-controlled studies in humans (yet). Oral tetracyclines are antibiotics can be prescribed for acne, but are not safe during pregnancy, as they can affect bone growth and cause tooth discoloration in a developing baby. Use caution with over-the-counter creams and lotions as well, as they can contain substances not cleared (or studied for safety) during pregnancy. Always talk to your doctor about any and all topical, oral or herbal medications you take for acne control. Topical over-the-counter medications containing salicylic acids are not recommended by many doctors, so talk to your physician to see what your options are if you have severe acne. Be sure to check the labels on any cosmetics you use, as some anti-oil and anti-acne medications can be incorporated into the product. To help keep hormonal breakouts at bay, try natural clay masks, gentle facial cleansers, and avoid greasy make-up and foods. Try not to touch your face as you can transfer pore-clogging dirt, oil and bacteria from your hands, and always wash well in the morning and at night to help eliminate oil and bacteria from the skin.
There are many substances to avoid during pregnancy and when you’re trying to conceive, so get into the habit of reading labels and researching what you are putting into your (and your baby’s!) body. When in doubt, leave it out, and always try to do what your great-grandmother did: go back to basics and natural when possible. Small changes today can lead to a healthier tomorrow- for you and your family.